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Camping for Beginners, for Women
Helpful Advice For the First Time Camper

by Alanna Kordell

If shopping the day after Thanksgiving is your idea of the call of the wild, then perhaps it's time you head to the great outdoors for some real adventure. Even if you weren't a Girl Scout or never received a Brownie badge, a working woman can still get in touch with her wild side while mastering the basics of camping.

Camping provides an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Fresh air, endless hiking trails and a campfire for roasting marshmallows can help you rediscover the simple pleasures of life and reinvigorate even the most worn out work horse. But before heading out to blaze your own trail, there are some camping basics you should know.

Sleeping Beauty

Does sleeping under the stars sound appealing? Think again. Although sleeping out in the open allows you a great view of the night sky, it can also make you a mosquito's midnight feast. Aside from swatting insects all night, you will also be at the mercy of the weather. To play it safe, plan on camping with shelter overhead. When it comes to sleeping accommodations, a range of options ensures you will find your own personal camping style.

Inexperienced campers can cruise to a local campground in a RV to avoid roughing it. Many campgrounds have sites that can accommodate RVs, such as Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park, which offers spots along the Kaweah River and a small grocery store nearby. Other accommodations in Sequoia National Park range from permanent tent structures allowing you to simply unpack and start camping, to sites where you must pitch your own tent.

Permanent tent structures such as those available at Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite National Park have the comfort and convenience of modern amenities. Tent structures are located within sight of the Merced River and consist of three concrete walls, a concrete floor and a curtained fourth wall. In addition to saving you the hassle of pitching your own tent, this modified form of camping comes complete with a picnic table and bunk beds, so no one sleeps on the ground. The electric lights and outlets in a Houskeeping Camp tent are another amenity those new to camping may appreciate.

If you insist on pitching your own tent, campgrounds across the country have basic camping sites available for the more adventurous spirits who want to start from scratch. Most campsites will have a designated fire pit on site and a bathroom nearby (some may or may not have showers, check individually). To find a National Park in your area the National Recreation Reservation Service operates, which contains listings for the USDA Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers outdoor recreation facilities.

When choosing a tent there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the tent has enough space for everyone to sleep as well as store their gear.

  • Tents constructed with floors made from one piece of material are less likely to let water seep in than those with seams.

  • Rain is always a possibility so make sure your tent has a rain fly that extends over the door.

  • Placing a tarp on the ground under your tent is also a good idea. Keeping water out of your tent, whether it is from rain or morning dew, will help keep inhabitants dry.

  • When shopping for a tent, visit sporting goods or outdoor retail stores who often have a few tents set up as floor models. It is a good idea to view some of these models before purchasing a tent to help determine the size and style that suits you best.

Waking to bird songs and crisp, clean air may not rouse you as quickly if the previous night's sleep left you with a stiff back or sore neck. Investing in an inexpensive solution such as an egg crate foam pad or an air mattress may be money well spent. Air mattresses can be found for as little as $20 at discount retailers like Target or Wal-Mart. Other simple solutions you may already have on hand are an extra sleeping bag or the thick exercise mats found at the gym. Toss either of these on the ground before putting down your sleeping bag for added comfort.

Sleeping bags are a camping essential, but bedding can replace it if you don't already own one. Comforters or blankets work fine for a few days of camping. But the old adage rings true: "Better safe than sorry." To guarantee a good night's rest, over-prepare by bringing two or three blankets to cover yourself and an extra blanket as padding.

Cookin' Up a Storm

Campsites are generally equipped with designated fire pits. This is the only place you should start a fire and a good place to cook meals. It is illegal to gather wood in National Parks and generally not a good idea to take wood from any natural setting. Plan ahead and bring a supply of wood from home that will last your entire trip. Newspapers come in handy as kindling and matches are a safe bet to light the fire.

Creative cooking abounds for camp meals. Camp chefs often find themselves improvising with common cooking utensils. Here are a few basics to bring.

  • Saucepan and pot

  • BBQ grill grate (similar to an oven rack) in case the campground does not provide one with the fire pit

  • Forks, knives and spoons, which will play double duty for cooking and eating

  • Paper plates and bowls will save you clean up

  • Ziplock bags

  • Dish soap, sponge and towel

  • Paper towels

  • Plastic trash bags

Campsites suited for beginners will generally include a picnic table for outdoor dining. A plastic tablecloth does double duty, dressing up your campsite while covering the table for sanitary purposes. Folding chairs can be used as extra seating and also make comfortable fireside retreats at night.

While it's not quite "The Naked Chef," you will be creating meals with limited cooking resources and ingredients, so plan ahead. Simplicity is the key element for meals in the great outdoors. Packaged pasta or rice mixes are tasty and easy to make, and you can create variety by mixing in vegetables or chicken.

"Canned goods and one-pot meals are best," recommends Catherine Boire, public relations representative for Sequoia National Park. Remember that the less you use to cook with, the less cleanup there is to do.

Boire also recommends bringing a cooler for items that need refrigeration, such as meat, vegetables or milk. Ice blocks tend to last longer than ice cubes, but some campsites have small grocery stores that sell ice so it can be replenished conveniently. To play it safe, check with your campground when making reservations to find out if ice may be purchased nearby.

Coolers and all dry food goods should be stored in bear lockers when provided. If the camp provides a bear locker it means you are in bear country -- use it! If a bear locker is not provided, store all food goods in the trunk of your car, out of site of any furry friends that may creep unexpectedly into your campsite. Do not leave anything in your car. Bears (they don't just want your picnic basket like Yogi and Boo Boo) have been known to break into cars even for breath mints or sunscreen. As John Muir wrote in Our National Parks, "To him almost everything is food except granite." If bears can see it, they can probably get to it.

Respect the Permanent Residents

The top tip for beginner campers? "Don't underestimate the wildlife," warns Boire. They are wild, unpredictable creatures that should be observed from a distance. No matter how cute chipmunks, raccoons, skunks or other animals appear, they are all looking for the same thing: your leftovers. Cleanup should be a constant. After a meal is done, scrape the leftovers into a trash bag and take it to the camp dumpster; leaving trash or unwashed dishes lying around is asking for unwanted visitors.

When breaking camp, make sure you take everything with you. One common camping phrase encourages "Pack it in, pack it out." Your campground is the local wildlife's backyard, so keep it clean.

Packing in Style

Choosing a wardrobe for your adventure requires a little bit of everything. "You should be prepared for any kind of weather," advises Lance Wellwood, manager of Yosemite's Housekeeping Camp. "Bring warm clothes and rain gear regardless of the time of year."

To simplify the packing process, here is a short list of recommended clothing

  • Jacket - a windbreaker can also double as a rain jacket

  • Sweatshirt and sweatpants-good for sleeping or walking to and from the showers

  • T-shirts - both long and short sleeved

  • Jeans

  • Shorts

  • Thermals

  • Thick and thin socks

  • Hat or visor

  • Gloves

  • Hiking boots and/or very comfortable sneakers

  • Sandals or slip-ons to wear walking to and from showers

Be sure to find out about the location and operation of bathrooms and showers when you make your camping reservations. It is likely that both will be within walking distance. You will need shoes to wear to and from the shower, as well as something to carry toiletries in. A simple solution is a Ziplock gallon-size storage bag, which generally is large enough for toiletries and can be sealed to keep liquids from leaking onto clothing. Some showers are coin operated so bring quarters.

You will also want to bring:

  • First aide kit

  • Sunscreen and lip balm with sunscreen

  • Insect repellant (Avon Skin-So-Soft reportedly scares off most pests)

  • Flashlights and extra batteries

  • Camping lantern

  • Small whisk broom to sweep out tent

  • Cards or board games to keep busy in bad weather or at night

  • Handy wet wipes

  • Camera

Making a checklist (right after making those campground reservations) will help you decide what to pack and keep the essentials on your list. And finally, after you arrive at your destination, take a deep breath and prepare for an adventure!

Cool New Online Tool for Campers:

Comprehensive outdoor travel and activity planning is just a mouse click away with the debut of the Coleman Outernet site at

A one-stop source of searchable information on more than 16,000 public and private campground locations throughout the United States, the Coleman Outernet is the most comprehensive Web site of its kind. It is geared toward helping people plan all types of outdoor trips and activities, whether they're close-to-home getaways or cross-country adventures. For added convenience, many of the site locations on the Coleman Outernet can be reserved online. Through its interactive content, the Outernet also serves to connect people who enjoy the outdoors with others who have similar interests.

Of the thousands of camping locations available on the Coleman Outernet, almost 4,400 are at national forests; 1,000 at state parks; 10,000 at private RV parks; 400 at national parks, and 350 at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes. The national forest information is exclusive to Coleman.

Campground site listings include rates, descriptions, special features, available activities, special events and wildlife guides. Also available on the Coleman Outernet are maps and directions, as well as suggestions for great scenic drives in every region of the country.

Additionally, the "Great Outdoor Experiences" section of the Outernet allows visitors to search for guides, outfitters, RV rental companies, fly-fishing guides and other outdoor recreation experience providers.

Click HERE to get started!

Other tips for campers:
  • Make a checklist before leaving to avoid the "oops" scenario and ending up stranded without the essentials.

  • Check out possible locations and make reservations in advance. For late spring and summer reservations, the earlier you book the better.

  • Read over campground rules and regulations on the bulletin board at the camp entrance when you first arrive. Bulletin boards are also a good place to find out about campground activities.

  • If you are pitching a tent, bring the instructions. All poles start to look the same after a while.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Remember to clean up after yourself and leave as little trace of your visit as possible. After all, you are Mother Nature's guest.
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